This is for my daughter,
who has always loved to go too fast,
and too high.
Every summer your shrieks reeled out
from the roller coaster,
in equal parts joy and terror,
charmed by those wild forces.
Remember when you cried
because we couldn’t save
that one tiny kitten?
Now it’s you who requires saving.
You, who cannot abide to be alone,
and you, so easily convinced by boys
I found you sleeping once,
in a house of trash and graffiti.
Your hair was feathered across your cheek,
and for just one moment,
I could not bear to wake you.
I’d been looking for two days,
and I was overcome by an urge
to shake you
You were probably dreaming of cotton candy
but the room smelled
like whiskey and old cigarettes
and I realized that I had forgotten
to tell you
that carnivals aren’t as much fun in the light of day.
There are cords to trip over,
stinking cans with circling flies,
and men with spaces for teeth who are happy
to spend your last dollar.
The carnival is over.
Please come home now.
Inside of here, I hold on too tightly
Fisted clenched and toes curled,
I white-knuckle my way through this life.
I cannot wear this skin well,
I don’t know how to rest these bones,
and it is so hard to walk through this world
when nothing lasts long enough for this greedy heart.
Love puts its ear to the ground
and listens closely. It knows my weaknesses.
I’ve always been worried, secretly,
that love would take me down.
Sideswipe me out of nowhere,
knock me to the ground,
knees bleeding and tears streaming.
That it would reduce me to something
Desperate and clutching, like my mother.
Broken and spent, like so many others.
I’ll have none of that, thank you very much.
And so I have spent a lifetime practicing
the art of taking leave.
I have rehearsed goodbyes the way one
would approach the piano.
I take out the crumpled sheet music,
flatten it with open palms
and take a deep breathe before I begin.
I say so long over and over again
sort of like when I learned my multiplication tables.
You times me equals 69
and fireworks of the best sort.
I know my math is a little creative.
Sweetheart, I thought the scrambled eggs were delicious
just don’t make plans too far into the future
because I’m scratching fondness and farewell
onto dead leaves, matchbooks, bar napkins,
and the palms of each one of my lovers.
I slip out in the quiet hours of the night
leaving notes in eyeliner
that say things like
catch you later
thanks for the French fries and the fuck
you’re awesome. smiley face
One must practice goodbyes.
Stand in front of the mirror and try them out.
Do this every day for many years.
Part ways with the graffiti and the dirty snow,
with warm lips and kisses in the dark
our clouds of breath spreading like haloes
in the streetlight.
Walk away from tulip bulbs warming in the ground
like small furry fists.
Abandon the lover who stroked your cheek
as if it were a newborn baby
just placed in her arms.
Turn your back on that deep sinking black of day
leeching into night as the ocean laps at your skin.
And in the morning
run. Run like a river raging full in spring
and do your best not to look up
at the windswept sky
so full of tears and loss signaling the storm to come
which will surely take you away from me.
So tonight, I will do what I must.
I will wrap my arms around you,
lick my love song into your ear,
and then I will tell you goodbye
before you have a chance to leave me.
Oh, how sweet it would be to move
to safety, but I cannot
tear myself away.
I crave salt water today,
not on my skin but in my soul.
I’m a desert creature now,
but I need to wash the grit from my teeth.
Yes, I know the waters are weighted
and oil slick, as thick as dripping whales
gliding in ponderous silence.
Dazzling, this ability to muffle the sound
of my own heart.
It is bright, that unholy silence.
Quieting ever thing including the one thing
that is always,
always on the tip of my tongue.
Why is your pillow encased in frost each morning?
This is important.
Is it because you cling so tightly
to the night? Is it because
my love is not warm enough?
I clap my hands together
until the sound is exactly that of
coins falling into a parking meter,
of the world shaking itself loose of its axis
and then I raise my voice in song,
sustaining that one note until I can hear
the whoosh of everything that came before you
folding in upon itself
an origami seagull with practical wings.
I will it to fly away
and miraculously, it does
mirrored in the ocean below.
I want to tell you about a bridge
that has been slouching
across a 4-lane highway
for so many autumns that
spray paint slopped
by moonlight is a gift.
On one side,
small rain-damp houses
thrift store couches
mothers worn ragged from jobs
with green glass
ashtrays on their desks,
smoke sifting through their
mascara as they type.
Fathers, mostly memory,
missing since we don’t remember when.
On the other side,
more of the same.
Once when I was thirteen
I sat in the middle.
The bridge held me while the sky
gave me its heart.
Trucks moved below and
summer began its slow burn.
My feet were pendulums ticking toward
somewhere that wasn’t here.
Bear with me.
I want to tell you something
about happiness -
that it is shaped like a wooden bowl
and moves like a flock of birds.
I want to tell you something
about mental illness -
that we didn’t have words for it,
but that it doesn’t need a summons
to seep into the bloodstream
while nobody will look it in the eye.
I want to stand on that bridge again,
to see if it can still work that kind of magic.